Are you the type of person who often talks to themselves? If you are, there’s a lot that you can learn about this interesting human phenomenon. Recent studies in the field of psychology have found that people can develop inner voices by as early as 5 or 7 years old, and that inner speech can sometimes be complex enough to be considered “internal dialogue” instead of “internal monologue.”
Someone’s internal monologue can involve a simple statement like “I’m going to be late,” but eventually evolve into internal dialogue when they begin to engage themselves from different points of view. The inner voice might reply to the previous statement with “You’re probably going to have an awful start to your day” or “What else could possibly go wrong?” and continue with a laundry list of less-than-favourable possibilities.
If you’ve ever experienced this, it’s like you’re talking to two different versions of yourself—and as you may find in instances of trouble, one of them will sometimes be less pleasant to hear than the other. What can you do to turn the conversation around so that it feels like you’re hearing from your best advocate and not your worst enemy? To answer that question, here are some tips for engaging yourself during moments of internal dialogue and turning discouragement into self-affirmation.
Engage with Your Inner Voice When You Hear It
First, remember that you shouldn’t shoot your thoughts down when they come to you. Try not to entertain feelings of being irrational or like you’re overthinking things when you start hearing your inner voice. Much of the time, that voice resonates within you for a reason. It’s perfectly fine to stop and let the words come to you, especially when you’re distressed or confused.
There are several things you can do when you enter into internal dialogue mode. For one, you can just rest and let your thoughts flow freely; perhaps they’re coming to you because you need to take a break and recollect yourself. For another, you can transform your inner words into something that feels more outwardly directed. For example, if you practice the Islamic faith, a tool like the Muslim Pro app can help you structure your thoughts and incorporate your internal dialogue into your daily prayer and reflection. Acts like these will allow you to feel like you’re in control of your emotions and that you have sources of inspiration to weather things through. They can also help you feel less lonely and more purposeful about the things you tell yourself, which can in turn bolster your emotional and spiritual fortitude.
Notice the Tone You Use When You’re Talking to Yourself
It isn’t just the words themselves that have an impact on you when you’re talking to yourself. Tone often matters just as much. When you feel particularly down in moments of internal dialogue, ask yourself: Are you being excessively angry or harsh? Are you telling yourself hurtful things from a place of fear?
One way to effectively turn discouraging internal dialogue into self-affirmation is to notice the underlying tone of your inner voice—and to take a pause to rephrase your thoughts in a more forgiving tone. Say for example you find yourself mentally repeating the phrase “I’m so worthless.” You can backtrack to see where the tone of self-doubt comes from and rephrase it to ring closer to your experience. You may find yourself saying, “I think I haven’t been performing as well as I usually do, and that scares me.” Once that thought is clarified and brought into the open, it will be easier for you to encourage yourself with statements like “It’s okay to make mistakes,” “I don’t need to demand perfection from myself,” and “I can try this tomorrow so that I will improve.”
Detecting the tone that you use when you speak to yourself can make you more conscious of what it is you really need to hear. Choosing a gentle and affirming tone may also be one of the most important acts of kindness that you afford to yourself. If you know how important it is to speak to others in a kind tone, what’s stopping you from doing the same to your own person?
Concretize Things by Involving the “I”
Another way to enhance the self-affirming effect of your internal dialogue is to concretize positive thoughts for yourself by inserting the word “I.” There may be a world of difference between saying something general to encourage yourself and actively making yourself the subject of affirmation.
Take the statement “things will get better eventually.” You may already feel a measure of hope when you say that to yourself. But try rephrasing it to include something more specific to your own personal experience, like “I’ll feel better when I’ve had time to process this” or “I will likely feel better about my problem tomorrow when I’m in a better disposition to think of a solution.”
Many people think that involving the “I” is a good strategy for turning an abstract thought into something more concrete and actionable. It may be the same case for you; try it out and see what difference it makes.
Document the Most Effective Words and Statements You’ve Heard from Your Inner Voice
Finally, there are some words of self-affirmation that are worth hearing more than once. You may find yourself reliving certain moments of internal dialogue often in your life, like for a recurring issue that has challenged you for years. Maybe it has to do with improving your relationships with certain types of people or mastering a skill that doesn’t come intuitively to you. Regardless, when you find yourself being able to overcome that challenge once, take note of what you said to successfully encourage yourself—and remember to tell yourself an iteration of that same thing when you encounter that hurdle again.
You can make it a habit to jot down encouraging words in a diary, to visualize positive thoughts in a creative manner like by sketching them out or even sharing wisdom from your inner self to your family and friends on social media. What’s important is that the words you used to affirm yourself are accessible somewhere and that they can be revisited as needed. After several reminders, the practice of self-affirmation may eventually become a healthy habit. You will be thankful for being able to develop this emotional strength for yourself, as well as being able to tap into it when you really need to.
All this is to say that you should pay attention to the things you tell yourself, plus the way you convey them. Your internal dialogue is what you make of it, and there are always opportunities to turn words of discouragement into words of affirmation. Make it a habit to affirm yourself during moments of internal dialogue, and be your own greatest champion in times of trouble.